Enrollment growth in Olentangy schools could lead the district to take on a new lease.

The Olentangy Local School District board is expected to vote March 16 on a lease agreement for a nearly 40,000-square-foot office building in Orange Township. The board met for a second time in less than a month March 7 to discuss the possibility of renting the former home of Modern Medical Inc. at 7840 Graphics Way.

The move would allow the district to relocate its administrative offices to the new space. In turn, the central offices' current home at Shanahan Middle School could be converted into a dozen preschool classrooms and other flexible spaces.

The lease is expected to cost the district about $480,000 per year. The cost of renovating the current and future homes of the administrative offices for their new uses has been estimated at $888,000.

The finalized lease could include a provision allowing the district to purchase the building at a minimum price of $4.5 million.

Jeff Gordon, Olentangy's director of business management and facilities, said the potential preschool classrooms at Shanahan could be ready for the 2017-18 school year.

"At this point, we don't think there's reason to believe we can't do it, but it will be a tight schedule," he said.

Olentangy officials were prompted in the fall to find more space for the youngest students after the district's facilities committee warned of worsening capacity problems in elementary schools. According to the report, the district uses about a full elementary school's worth of classrooms to house pre-K students.

When adjusted to include the amount of classroom space set aside for preschool and specialized learning centers for disabled students -- both of which feature smaller-than-typical class sizes -- Olentangy's elementary schools already are over their design capacity by about 300 students.

Along with renting the Modern Medical building, district officials also have been considering building a standalone preschool building or renting modular classrooms, said district Treasurer Emily Hatfield.

Hatfield said leasing the Modern Medical building would provide the most "flexibility" going forward. She said renting classrooms would be the cheapest short-term option, but would provide no extra space for the district in the long term.

"We also have concerns with safety and security," she said.

Olentangy officials said the district likely would need to build a 16th elementary school eventually, no matter what option it chooses in the short term.

Superintendent Mark Raiff said the district could return to the ballot in spring 2020 "at the earliest" in part to deal with growing enrollment.

"I think the driver for a future (ballot) issue will be the need for elementary (No.) 16 potentially before we need money," he said.

District voters in March 2016 approved a levy package that allowed Olentangy to move ahead with construction on its fourth high school.

Voters in 2011 gave the district authorization to sell bonds to fund the construction of Heritage Elementary School and the district's 16th elementary school. The district declined to build the latter school after the state reversed its mandate that districts provide all-day kindergarten classes.

While the district has maintained the authorization to sell the remaining bonds, the proceeds would not cover current construction costs for an elementary school building. The district's next potential bond issue likely would cover the remaining cost of building the 16th elementary school and buying the Modern Medical building.

tgallick@thisweeknews.com

@TWGallick